‘It was just the best day ever’: Coach reflects on winning state championship
After rain and lightning suspended their match against Walker while tied 1-1 Saturday at the Rome Tennis Center, the Cougars were able to host Monday’s continuation because they were the higher seed. And they gave the home crowd plenty of reasons to cheer as they won the first two matches for a 3-1 victory.
Winning those matches Monday were senior Gracie Hemmings, 6-3, 6-2, at No. 1 singles; and junior Mary Stewart Mullin and sophomore Maria Eckstein, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5, at No. 2 doubles. Senior Lillie Patton and junior Lillie Norred won their No. 2 doubles match, 6-2, 6-0, on Saturday.
This is coach Mary Lynne Cumiskey’s 13th state championship in 39 seasons at Brookstone, but her Cougars never won like this.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a year,” Cumiskey said, referring to the 3-2 loss to Walker in the final last year, when the Cougars won both doubles but lost all three singles. “When we couldn’t finish on Saturday, the girls got a little nervous about coming to play here, because there’s so much more pressure, but they played beautifully.”
And they did it at the tennis complex named after their coach, who in 2003 became the first woman inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame.
All of Brookstone’s starters returned from last season’s team that fell short of winning a third straight state title. For extra motivation, Cumiskey hung in their locker room a photo of Walker celebrating with the first-place trophy. Emblazoned on the poster: “What’s wrong with this picture?”
“My girls have been determined since Day 1 this season,” Cumiskey said. “When we lost that heart breaker last year, they said we are not losing to Walker if we play them again.”
Hemmings beat the same Walker opponent who beat her last year.
“She finished her (Brookstone) career on an absolute high note,” Cumiskey said, “just playing her best tennis. You could just see her fighting spirit.”
That poster inspired Hemmings one more time Monday.
“I’ve stared at it since January,” she said. “This is all I’ve been waiting for. It’s what we’ve worked for. We’ve worked so hard.”
Hemmings also credited the pep talk her father gave her.
“This is how I wanted to go out,” she said. “My dad told me, ‘This is your home. You’re going to finish this match on your terms.’ ”
After winning the state title as a freshman and as a sophomore, Hemming said she was humbled by losing to Walker last year. The difference this time, Hemmings said, came in the team’s attitude.
“We needed to focus and work,” she said. “Nothing is given to you. So we worked hard all year for this.”
Mullin and Eckstein kept composed after three straight match points slipped away. When they got another chance two games later, Mullin said, “It was just a relief to know that we had done it. Last year was so close too, and so it’s just nice knowing that we did it this year.”
Acknowledging the pressure of playing at home, Mullin said, “We just had to block out the crowd and just play our game — and we did it. I’ve never been more excited.”
Eckstein had a different view of how playing at home affected their match.
“It was great,” she said. “We’ve never had this many people out here. I think the crowd also pumped us up. I think they brought energy to us too.”